HL Deb 19 April 1988 vol 495 cc1354-5

2.40 p.m.

Lord Wolfson asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are encouraging a more rapid timetable for the provision of cable facilities for a home shopping service by telephone and television similar to those being developed in countries overseas.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, the Government have established one of the most liberalised environments in the world for telecommunication networks and services. A framework has been put in place to allow companies to respond to customers' needs. The speed at which particular services are developed will be determined by the market and by commercial judgments of service operators.

Lord Wolfson

My Lords, as one with an interest in catalogue trading, I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Will he keep in mind that a telecommunication-based home shopping system could be the forerunner of an EC single market project in 1992, backed by computer link-ups programmed for ordering payment and simultaneous translation?

Lord Young of Graffham

Yes, my Lords. This is one of the matters which the negotiations towards a single market will undertake; that is, to agree common standards for the whole of Europe. I hope that this will be one of the beneficiaries of such an agreement.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when the Banking Bill was before the House there was, I believe, a special clause in the Bill (which is now the Banking Act) relating to access directly to terminals in retail stores by banks? Would similar legislation be required in respect of a home shopping service such as that mentioned by the noble Lord?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, no, it is my impression that such legislation would not be required. Some years ago my department gave limited support to interactive systems, but without great success. However, I shall look into the matter and if I am wrong I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this system is functioning in France but that retailers must pay a commission of between 7½ to 9½ per cent. on sales and that the system is subject to public support by public money?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I hope that the private sector and the market will develop cheaper ways of providing such services.

Lord Morris

My Lords, am I right in thinking that the Cable Authority has done a magnificent job in encouraging the use of cable within the United Kingdom and that it has recently announced the franchise for a further 26 cable areas?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, yes. Approximately 24 wide-band cable franchises—wide-band cable is required for the purpose—have been awarded. So far 10 are in operation. There are approximately 250,000 total subscribers in both wide and narrow-band cable facilities covering approximately 1.3 million homes which are now capable of receiving the service. The growth of cable has been slower than earlier' expectations but one hopes that it will be faster in the future.